Britain calls for more 'distinctive' BBC in governance overhaul

Thu May 12, 2016 10:41am EDT
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By Paul Sandle and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - The BBC will face external regulation for the first time in its 94-year history, the government said on Thursday, subjecting it to tighter scrutiny but stopping short of the heavy-handed intervention that some stars and programme-makers had feared.

In a once-in-a-decade review of a treasured national institution, the government said the BBC must become more distinctive and avoid aping its commercial radio and TV rivals.

"We will place a requirement to provide distinctive content and service at the heart of the BBC's overall core mission of informing, educating and entertaining," Culture Secretary John Whittingdale told parliament.

Known affectionately as "Auntie", the BBC reaches an estimated 97 percent of Britons every week and is admired around the world, especially for its news and drama. But critics say it is bloated, inefficient and wasteful of public money.

Rivals say its guaranteed income of 3.7 billion pounds ($5.35 billion), derived from an annual licence fee of 145.50 pounds imposed on all TV-watching homes, distorts competition and gives it an unfair degree of dominance.

The reforms will replace the governing body, the BBC Trust, with a new board of up to 14 people, to which the government will name six members but the BBC will be allowed to appoint the majority.

External regulation will be handed to Ofcom, the communications watchdog which oversees commercial broadcasters, and it will assess the BBC's impact on the market with "proportionate powers to sanction".

The BBC Trust has been severely criticised in the last few years. A report this year said the broadcaster was guilty of serious failings over the late Jimmy Savile, a former radio and TV star who was revealed after his death in 2011 to have been a prolific sex offender.   Continued...

A man talks on a mobile phone inside the BBC headquarters in London November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning